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Full text of "The Gay Genius"


is really no reason for my writing the life of Su Tungpo
except that I want t6 do it. For years the writing of his biography
has been at the back of my mind. In 1936, when I came to the United
States with my family, I brought with me, along with a carefully
selected collection of basic Chinese reference books in compact editions,
also a few very rare and ancient editions of works by and about this
poet, for which all considerations of space were thrown overboard. I
had hoped then to be able to write a book about him, or translate
some of his poems or prose, and even if I could not do so, I wanted
him to be with me while I was living abroad. It was a matter of
sustenance of the spirit to have on one's shelves the works of a man
with great charm, originality, and integrity of purpose, an enjant
terrible, a great original mind that could not conform. Now that I am
able to apply myself to this task, I am happy, and this should be an
all-sufficient reason.

A vivid personality is always an enigma. There had to be one Su
Tungpo, but there could not be two. "Definitions of a personality
generally satisfy only those who make them. It would be easy to pick
out from the life and character of a man with such a versatile talent
and colourful life a conglomerate of the qualities that have endeared
him to his readers. One might say that Su Tungpo was an incorrigible
optimist, a great humanitarian, a friend of the people, a prose master,
an original painter, a great calligraphist, an experimenter in wine
making, an engineer, a hater of puritanism, a yogi, a Buddhist believer,
a Confucian statesman, a secretary to the emperor, a confirmed wine-
bibber, a humane judge, a dissenter in politics, a prowler in the moon^
light, a poet, and a wag. And yet that might miss the sum total of what
made up Su Tungpo. I can perhaps best sum it up by saying that the
mention of Su Tungpo always elicits an affectionate and warm admir-
ing smile in China. For more than other Chinese poets', Su Tungpo's
personality had the richness and varjety and humour of a many-sided
genius, possessing a gigantic intellect and a guileless" child's heart—a
combination described by Jesus as the wisdom of the serpent and the
gentleness of the dove. Admittedly, this is a rare combination, shared
only by a few born upon this earth. Here was a man! All through his
life he retained a perfect naturalness and honesty with himself. Political
chicanery and calculation were foreign to his character; the poems and
essays he wrote on the inspiration of the moment or in criticism of
something he disliked were the natural outpourings of his heart, instinc-

ix                                             A*